The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance has drawn attention to a Melbourne company for advertising an unpaid internship with a time commitment of up to three days a week, but the business in question says it’s worked hard to make sure its intern program fits regulations and is being unfairly targeted.
On Thursday, the union representing journalists and media professionals posted screenshots of an internship ad for the Melbourne-based Get Noticed Digital Agency, questioning whether the opportunity was a “good deal”.
The ad, posted on jobs platform Indeed, lists the role as a “four month, part-time” commitment of two to three days per week.
“You will be working closely with our team of writers to edit and proofread both client and business facing documents and various forms of content,” the advertisement explains.
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Director of communications at the Media Entertainment and Art Alliance (MEAA) Mark Phillips tells SmartCompany the union chose to highlight the ad because it was concerned about the idea of workers committing to three days of unpaid work for four months.
“If it’s unpaid, it really should be one day and only a short period. For two to three days a week, it’s way beyond what people will see as fair,” Phillips says.
The Fair Work Ombudsman does not set prescriptive requirements for reasonable hours for interns, but says interns must not complete tasks of a paid employee, and employers should be wary of how long they expect internships to run.
“Generally, the longer the period of the arrangement, the more likely the person is an employee,” the Ombudsman advises.
However, the founder of Get Noticed Digital Agency, who SmartCompany is choosing not to name, says criticism of its ad is unwarranted. The company says its internship program has gone through rigorous development based on the practical needs of the interns and was developed based on guidance from the Fair Work Ombudsman’s office. The company says the program meets the requirements of Australian workplace law.
“We do not exploit and we never have,” the company’s founder says.
“We have not had anyone complain about the program and no intern has ever felt exploited, the program is designed for the individual, to bridge the gaps in their knowledge.”
In the ad for the position, applicants are promised a structured program including the “opportunity to gain money-can’t-buy experience, where ‘you’ll have a real impact on the company’s growth and future’.”
The media union says it has no problem with interns getting on-the-job training, even if it is unpaid.
“We’re totally in favour of internships, and we understand they can be unpaid when they’re part of their studies,” MEAA’s Mark Phillips says.
However, Phillps says the Get Noticed Digital job ad was referred to the union by its members, and MEAA believes the details conflict with its own best practice guidelines for internships.
One of the key elements of these guidelines is that companies only offer internships for reasonable hours and must pay staff unless they are volunteering for a charity of obtaining direct university credit for a program.
The issue of what constitutes an appropriate unpaid internship has been discussed a number of times over the past year, with other businesses facing court over their internship programs.
Shark Tank business Her Fashion Box was taken to court last year over claims it underpaid three staff members $40,000 by classifying them as interns.
The MEAA, meanwhile, says it is watching the advertising space of intern job ads, with Phillips saying there are plenty of examples the union could publish of jobs that it doesn’t believe are in the best interests of interns.
“We could do it every day,” he says.
A spokesperson for the Fair Work Ombudsman’s office has told SmartCompany that it doesn’t provide endorsement of any individual internship program.
“It is important for any employer establishing an internship program, particularly a program involving unpaid work, to conduct due diligence to ensure its program does not contravene workplace laws,” the spokesperson said.
* This article was updated at 4:00pm on February 2 to include comments from the Fair Work Ombudsman’s office.